Cultural intelligence is key

In 1971, four American researchers conducted an intelligence test on a group of Liberians who were asked to arrange 20 objects into four categories – food, food containers, clothing and instruments.

To the disappointment of the researchers, the Liberians used functional pairings, and placed the potato, a food item with the knife. When asked about their pairing, they said that the knife is used to cut the potato and that any sensible person would arrange the objects in that manner.

The Liberians were then asked to arrange the items the way a foolish person would, and they sorted the items into the categories the researchers expected in the first place. The researchers’ criterion for intelligent behaviour was the Liberians’ criterion for foolish behaviour.

These findings surprised the researchers because they paid little attention to the thinking and cultural differences between themselves and the Liberians. They viewed the Liberians’ behaviour through their own cultural lens.

In our education system, we place great emphasis on intelligence (IQ) and erroneously believe that thinking is simply intelligence in action. Edward deBono, the chief proponent of lateral thinking, discredits that belief. He uses the analogy of a car and its driver to point out the difference between intelligence and thinking.

The car might have a powerful engine but the skill of the driver is something different. In no way does the power of the car ensure the skill of the driver. The engineering of the car corresponds to innate intelligence and the skill of the driver corresponds to the operating skill that we call thinking; a skill that can be improved with training and practice.

Sometimes a humble car has a better driver. So too, a person with low or modest intelligence may be a better thinker than the highly educated and intelligent person.

Today, people and countries around the world are going through different stages of development and thinking, and in some cases agricultural man mixes daily with Information age/high technology man. While some minds are at home with space-age technology, others are just joining the agricultural and industrial revolutions.

Too often this reality is forgotten or ignored. That is why the management of diversity and interdependence is so very important. In progressive countries it has become a first important priority in the quest for success in our interconnected world.

Will expertise, a high IQ, and a good resume ensure success in an era of globalisation? “No,” says social scientist David Livermore.  He claims that the number one predictor of success in today’s borderless world is not IQ, but CQ, cultural intelligence. Even among the brightest people, cultural differences often result in a breakdown in planning, communication, understanding, implementation and leadership.

Cultural intelligence, CQ, is defined as the capability to function effectively in a variety of cultural contexts. There is the intelligence to learn and understand the culture, – its language, people, history, religion, behavioural norms, beliefs, values, guiding principles, customs, habits, rituals, concerns, fears, expectations and aspirations; the intelligence to identify cultural differences and the capacity to develop strategies to manage them; and the intelligence to tailor and adapt skills and behaviour to meet cultural challenges.

A study at a Swiss Military Academy showed that in international activities, CQ contributed 25 per cent to overall performance, twice as much as IQ, 9.5 per cent and EQ (Emotional Intelligence), 3.5 per cent, combined. How do we learn, teach, improve, measure and capitalize on cultural intelligence?

Melody Chao, a social psychologist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, says that research into cultural intelligence is in its infancy. She says that in our rapidly changing world where inter-connections grow ever tighter, there is much for us to learn about how to improve cultural competence.

For years, we in the Caribbean have been speaking out about the quality of our education. It is now time to look to the future and design educational programmes that will improve our competitiveness, as well as our ability to capitalise on the challenges and opportunities in tomorrow’s world.

To survive and flourish, we must change our mindset and our approach. Although the teaching of cultural intelligence is in its infancy, we should as a matter of urgency learn about the developments and the teaching of CQ in places like Michigan’s Cultural Intelligence Center and introduce them to our schools and universities.

To enhance their own performance and to avoid becoming distant followers in world growth and development, our business leaders, bankers, lawyers, teachers, scientists, public servants, diplomats, professionals in international activities, politicians, ministers of government, and especially foreign ministers and prime ministers should elevate cultural competence, cultural intelligence and the management of diversity and interdependence, inside and outside their countries, to top positions on their list of first important priorities.

Source: (Dr Rudi V. Webster, a psychologist, is former Barbados diplomat and West Indies cricket manager)

One Response to Cultural intelligence is key

  1. Lee October 21, 2017 at 8:30 pm

    IQ, Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Intelligence are so apparent in the person of Dr Rudi Webster because of his self confident humility. I have proposed that our educational system in Barbados should place more emphasis on the teaching of DECORUM this being I believe the pillar of cultural intelligence.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *